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52 l November 2012

installationfeature Licence

‘More, more, more’ is the mantra for modern theme park rides – a challenge to which audio developers have risen with a fresh generation of high-impact sound solutions. David Davies straps in and prepares for a long, strange trip...

PUBLISHED IN 1985, theorist Neil Postman’s formidably prescient book Amusing Ourselves to Death contained a stark warning about the individual’s declining span of attention in the televisual age. More recently, the advent of the ‘digital brain’ – shaped by the dizzying turnover of online content – has given rise to a survey suggesting that a four- second decline in average attention span has taken place in only 12 years (from 12 to 8 seconds... that’s one second lower than a goldfish! Source: Associated Press 2012). Winning – and, crucially,

retaining – the attention of the public has therefore never been more challenging. Amusement parks can hardly have failed to escape the trend, conjuring increasingly impactful rides

virtually guaranteed to inspire in the participant a comprehensive sensorial overload.

This commitment to thrill

extends even to the pre-ride areas, hence the abundance of “elaborate queue sets that include audio, video, lighting and prop effects to entertain riders as they await the thrill of the latest extreme rollercoaster,” says Jeff Levison, VP cinema & entertainment systems at Germany-based spatial audio specialist Iosono. It is indisputable that, as

elsewhere in the media world, “the idea of total immersion including all senses has found its way into theme parks”, as Levison remarks. More often than not, the ride is attempting to relate a concise narrative, and in this context “creating a


convincing sonic environment to push the ‘story’ [...] makes the overall experience even more immersive”, says Johan Wadsten, product manager – Pyramix Virtual Studio/Ovation, Merging Technologies. The impulse to specify more


powerful loudspeakers and amplifiers has not gone away, but more than ever theme park audio is about the sum being greater than the parts – a development that inevitably calls for increased emphasis on show control technology and overall project integration.

SPILLS AND CHILLS In the 1980s, you didn’t have to look too far for theme parks that essentially resembled glorified fairgrounds, combining some decidedly iffy, cheap-looking amusements with maybe one or

has always been one of the best examples of audio in a theme park ride,” says Iosono’s Jeff Levison (a huge theme ride fan). “Audio is a major part of the show including the outside queue, the pre- show ‘stretching room’, the ride portion itself and the exit area. All types of approaches are used, including room ambience, specific spot effects, narration and in-cab audio.”

THE HAUNTED MANSION Each version of the Disneyland attraction (Disneyland Florida, the Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland) incorporates a walk-through

show in the queue followed by an Omnimover-based ride-through tour of a haunted house. “From its inception in the 1960s, The Haunted Mansion

KING KONG (PICTURED) Part of the Universal Studios Tour (otherwise known as ‘the Backlot Tour’), this ride brings participants to a recreated version of Skull Island from Peter Jackson’s 2005 cashtill-ringing remake

two elaborate ‘setpieces’. That all changed during the 1990s when a new generation of rides came onstream, assisted by the arrival of more powerful motion-control technology. In 2012, the high-tech rides of the world’s leading theme parks are entirely in keeping with the ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ mentality of 3D cinema – and frequently utilise some of the same AV solutions. In helping to deliver more

exciting rides, recent developments in audio technology have proven to be a tremendous boon – from the design of more compact loudspeakers and amplifiers for use on on-board carts, to increasingly elaborate show control software able to trigger all manner of effects. Simon Holley, Bose Pro

divisional manager, underlines audio’s role in engendering mood


of King Kong. The spec includes an extensive contingent of L-Acoustics KILO and KIVA components, powered by the French manufacturer’s LA4 and LA8 amplified controllers. “Peter Jackson’s audio

group, Park Road Post, did an incredible job creating the audio for this attraction,” says Levison. “In order to accomplish this feat they had to reconfigure their studio – designed for movie mixing – to accommodate the very different world of the large- scale dark ride. The end result is both impressive and exciting. The 22-channel mix by Michael Hedges pushed the envelope for audio.”

and emotion in every area of the park. These days, he remarks, “audio can be used to create atmosphere – from tense excitement to calm – and from environmental sound to queue line messages”. Tannoy’s product manager,

Mark Copeland, agrees that audio is pivotal in creating what he describes as a “much more multi-sensory [experience] than ever before” – a development that is obviously “great news for AV manufacturers as modern parks look to incorporate both sound and visuals alongside the usual ‘thrills and spills’ type attractions”. But with theme parks

representing a very different audio environment to the theatre, concert hall or festival stage, where exactly does the specifier/installer start? Marc Kocks is managing director of

* in no particular order

MICKEY’S PHILHARMAGIC Based around a 12-minute film directed by George Scribner, Mickey’s PhilharMagic at Tokyo Disneyland delivers 3D effects, scents, water and multiple characters from Disney movies. The film is screened on what is reported to be the largest purpose-built 3D screen ever devised (48m wide). “A 3D speciality theatre,

Mickey’s PhilharMagic presents a 3D film along with an elaborate audio recreation of the orchestra. The audio presentation is exceptional for its immersion and detailed positioning using a large number of speakers in an array around the audience,” says Levison.

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